You can hear Merlyn from a block away. In fact, if you have ever been within a 10-mile radius of his spot at Seventh and Olive, you've probably heard him. He sounds like an old-time newsie ("Come on down folks! Get your Real Change!"), and he's got as many jokes as he does customers. He's been selling on that corner for years, but while it has remained largely unchanged, Merlyn's own life has taken a dramatic turn for the better.
Born Harwood Parker, just ten miles short of the Canadian border in Orient, Wash., Merlyn has spent much of his life in the Pacific Northwest. But when he was just 18 he traveled east to Billings, Mont. to find his biological mother. He found her and stayed for seven years, working mostly carpentry jobs, until the relationship with his mom crumbled and he left.
In 1991, Merlyn moved to Seattle with his best friend. They had each other, but not much else. Drug addiction and homelessness captured them in their early days in the city; nights were spent back and forth between shelters and the streets. But the lowest point came two years later when his friend died from a heroin overdose.
"It took me a long time to get over that, and it still hurts,"